Law in England before 1066

By | 12 August 2013

We hope that the summer 2013 BBC4 series, King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons, (presented by Michael Wood) will encourage interest in a deeper understanding of  the laws and legal system of the kingdoms in England before the Normans. For in this aspect, at least, the invaded and the vanquished could feel (justifiably) superior and more advanced than their conquerors.

Holders of an Oxford Single Sign On are well supplied with sources and commentary both online as well as in print.  For example, they can read The Oxford history of the laws of England. Volume II, 817-1216 by John Hudson or read the print copy, which can be found in both the Law Bod and the History Faculty Library as well as many College libraries (The Law Bod Legal History Libguide suggests more resources available for the committed OU student!)

However, there is an (increasingly) important website for this area of research which is freely accessible to all with internet access: the Early English Laws project.

Early English laws

Banner to project website

Its aim is “to publish online and in print new editions and translations of all English legal codes, edicts, and treatises produced up to the time of Magna Carta 1215.” It is a collaboration between the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London and the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London. (Its website says that the AHRC provided initial funding for the first three years of the project (viz 2009–2011) – we trust that it will not founder through lack of support!) The details of the laws which are included in the project, and the editors undertaking the work are in a regularly updated table Reading the website in August 2013, new good news is that sixteen new editions (17 texts) have already been published online, with a further 23 already in progress.

The Search screen offers both an alphabetically arranged browse option (which clearly states when the text is not yet online), a search box (in the left hand column), and, also in the left hand column, a variety of filters including reigning monarch

King & counsellors

King & counsellors & result of their decision?

and (at least to one with my depth of ignorance of the period) an intriguingly complex variety of categories of document (Agreements, Charter, Epistle, Imposture, Inquest, Local custom, Ordeal manual, Penalty, Pontifical, Procedure, Promise, Royaltext, Town custom, Translation, Treatise, Treaty, Writ)

As a librarian with little Latin and absolutely no old English, it is a delight to see that an online translation is a mere manipulation of the drop down menu  away from the text – along with much more scholarly tools such as commentary, H & Liebermann Facsimiles.

Translations available via drop down menu!

Translations available via drop down menu!

The Reference section of website links to new commentary, Contextual Essays, while the Blog also allows editors to share their thoughts and discoveries as the project progresses.

If you have missed episodes of the BBC programme they are, for a limited period, available via BBC iPlayer

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.